The Colt Government 1911 A1 is a pellet shooting replica air pistol from German manufacturer Umarex. Mechanically it’s very similar to other Umarex pellet shooting replicas such as the Walther CP88 but it also happens to be one of my all-time favourite replicas, so, don’t expect a completely unbiased review here!
I have owned two Umarex Colt 1911s – an early nickel finish model and a later glossy black Centenary Edition. Both were fine target shooters but the fit and finish on the Centenary Edition was simply outstanding and way ahead of most other replicas I have owned.
Real steel background
Colt 1911 spot-the difference. M1911 (left) and M1911A1 (right)
How good is your knowledge of the Colt 1911? Other than finish, there are seven physical differences between the original M1911and the later M1911A1. One change (the M1911A1 has a wider foresight) isn’t really evident in photos. Can you spot the other six differences? Answers at the bottom of this article (and in the paragraph below).
I have already covered the background to the Colt 1911 in an article about the handgun designs of John Moses Browning (you’ll find a link to that article at the end of this one). However, I do want to talk briefly here about the differences between the original M1911 and the modified M1911A1 introduced in 1924 as that has some relevance to this review. Changes to the M1911 came about following experience of using the original pistol in action. Though the M1911 was generally popular, there were a few niggling issues. The M1911 was found to have a tendency to shoot low, so a curved mainspring housing was introduced to raise the natural pointing position of the pistol. Some users suffered from “hammer-bite” (where the web of skin between the thumb and forefinger is nipped between the hammer and grip safety spur when the slide recoils). To prevent this, the grip safety spur was extended and the hammer shortened and re-shaped. Some users also complained of a long reach to the trigger, so a shorter trigger and frame cut-outs were introduced. The distinctive original wooden grips featuring a double-diamond pattern were found to be complex and expensive to produce, so the later model also featured simplified grip checkering.
Later models also tended to feature the cheaper Parkerized finish compared to the blued finish on originals, but this wasn’t co-incident with the release of the M1911A1. By 1930, most 1911s were supplied with a non-reflective, Parkerized finish (though some were still finished using Du-lite, a Colt proprietary bluing process) so finish alone can’t be used to distinguish between models.
The Umarex Colt Government 1911 A1
The Umarex Colt Government 1911 A1 is a licensed replica constructed of metal other than for plastic (or wood on some versions) grips and some internal parts. It follows the pattern of other Umarex pellet firing replicas in having an eight-shot, rotary pellet holder which is hidden inside the slide and accessed by operating the slide release which allows the front of the slide to move forward. CO2 is stored inside the grip and accessed by operating the magazine catch, which releases the right grip and gives access to the CO2 compartment.
There are three versions of the basic Umarex 1911: The Standard Model, The Centenary Edition and the Dark Ops version. The Standard Model is available in black or nickel finish. Early black Standard Models featured a glossy black finish while later models have a more matt finish. The nickel finish is actually a rather dull silver, similar to the nickel finish on other Umarex pellet shooters. The Centenary Edition (which was available for a limited time in 2011) featured a glossy black finish, wood grips, different markings and came in a box which was a replica of the packaging in which original M1911s were supplied. The Dark Ops version is identical to the Standard Model other than for a brushed steel finish to the side of the slide. Umarex also supply a mock compensator for this replica but this is cosmetic only and isn’t used to conceal a longer barrel.
Dark Ops version
Packaging and presentation 4/5
Early version blue hard case
Like other Umarex pellet-shooting pistols, most versions of the 1911come in a sturdy, well-padded hard case. The pistol is supplied with one rotary pellet holder, an allen key for sight adjustment and a short user manual. Early models were supplied in a blue hard case which featured foam with cut-outs for the pistol, CO2, pellet holder(s), an allen key and a tin of pellets. Later models come in a black hard case with eggshell foam. It has been claimed that the later black cases are not as good as the original blue cases, but overall the packaging is of high quality for a replica pistol.
The exception is the Centenary Edition which comes in a replica of the box in which the original 1911 was supplied. Which sounds good, but honestly? It’s a fairly unimpressive, small cardboard box.
Visual accuracy 7/10
Colt M1911A1 (left), Umarex Colt Government A1 Centenary Edition (right)
Visual accuracy is mixed. Although it’s identified as an A1 model, the Umarex 1911 has a straight mainspring housing which is characteristic of the earlier M1911. The trigger is long, again more reminiscent of the original M1911, but this is probably inevitable given that this pistol features both single and double action (the original is SA only). The trigger is also a slightly odd two-piece design which uses a shroud to conceal that this is a pivoting trigger trying very hard to look like a sliding trigger. The slide profile is good, but the front of the slide features serrations not found on the original (to provide grip when closing the front part of the slide) and the rear serrations are further forward and angled (presumably to help conceal the join between the front and rear parts of the slide). Front and rear sights are noticeably larger on the replica. The frame cut-outs and simplified grip checkering are correct and overall size and weight are very close to those of the original.
The Centenary Edition features a splendid glossy black finish and some very nice wood grips. The grips are accurate reproductions of those found on the original M1911, as is the straight mainspring housing, but this edition still features the frame cut-outs and long grip safety spur of the later M1911A1. This replica isn’t bad at all in terms of visual accuracy, but compared to the Umarex Walther CP88 which is almost indistinguishable from the real pistol, it just isn’t quite as good.
Functional accuracy 7/15
This is a revolver dressed-up to look like a semi-auto pistol. Given that, functional accuracy is predictably poor. Only the thumb and grip safeties operate as per the original. Moving the thumb safety up prevents the pistol from firing, and it can be fired only while the grip safety is depressed. The magazine catch is actually a release for the right-side grip, which gives access to the CO2 compartment. What looks like a slide release is actually a catch which allows the front part of the slide to move forward for loading the rotary pellet holder. What appears to be the base of the magazine is a hinged pad which enables CO2 piercing. The replica allows both single and double action shooting, unlike the original which is single action only. The trigger here is a pivoted unit, unlike the sliding trigger on the original the very earliest versions of this replica did have a sliding trigger, but the trigger pull was so heavy that this was quickly changed to a pivoting unit.
The Umarex 1911 can’t be field stripped. It is possible to detach the moving front part of the slide by removing the screw below the muzzle, but this won’t give access to much more than the slide return spring. Any further disassembly involves splitting the two halves of the cast body. Which isn’t recommended unless you’re confident you know how to correctly reassemble the complex and interconnected bits and pieces that live inside inside.
CO2 is loaded in the same way as on other Umarex pellet shooters – pressing the magazine release detaches the right-hand grip and reveals the chamber within which the CO2 cartridge is placed. The baseplate is opened and then a thumb screw is tightened until the cartridge seats snugly, then the baseplate is pushed sharply upward to complete piercing. It’s a tried and tested system which works very reliably.
The 1911 seems to accept a variety of pellet types without any problems. I didn’t experience any jams or misfires on either of my 1911s – I suspect that carefully tamping down pellets in the rotary pellet holder before loading alleviates most problems. Power is reasonable – on a chilly early winter day and using single action, my Centenary Edition gave an average of 370fps over a six-shot string (with a high of 380 and a low of 356). In double action it was absolutely consistent at 365 +/- 2fps. Both my 1911s also produced a satisfying bang – there’s nothing so disappointing as a pistol that produces a weedy “pop” when fired! I got around 60 full power shots from each CO2.
Eight shots, six yards, 1911 Centenary Edition. Aim point was the top centre of the black inner circle.
Sights are rudimentary with no white dots or other sighting aids and the rear is adjustable for windage only. Despite this, both my Umarex 1911s grouped very nicely at around 1″ at six yards. The sights on both could be set accurately for windage, but both shot around 1½ – 2″ high at six yards regardless of pellet type or weight. I suppose I could have fitted adjustable sights, or even some form or red-dot, but both would have spoiled the look of the 1911. The other alternative would be to modify the rear sight although I didn’t attempt this with either of my 1911s (though I did do it to a CP88 – see the link at the end of this article). I do wonder if this tendency to shoot high is the reason that Umarex have gone for a straight mainspring housing here? The curved mainspring housing on the M1911A1 was introduced to cure a tendency to shoot low. It’s possible that providing a curved housing here would exacerbate the tendency to shoot high.
The trigger pull is fairly long and heavy in double action, though it’s smooth and consistent. The single action trigger pull is crisp and short. The action of both hammer and trigger are notably smooth and precise. The only minor operational flaw seems to be the action of the grip safety. This was quite stiff on both my pistols and engaged with a distinct (and not very pleasant) crunch.
Overall, the Umarex 1911 is a very pleasant shooter indeed. It’s more than adequately powerful and accurate and I suspect that with a little work (principally to that rear sight) it could be made into a very satisfying target pistol.
Quality and reliability 14/15
The Umarex 1911 generally seems to be very well built and finished. The black and nickel finishes are well applied and seem durable. The glossy black finish on my Centenary Edition was absolutely flawless and seemed to be resistant to scratching and scuffing. General build quality and fit are very good – the gap between the front and rear parts of the slide is barely noticeable. The operation of the hammer and trigger is particularly good – smooth, creamy and precise. I’m not aware of any particular issues with the 1911, beyond the usual wear and tear found on older examples. Like all the Umarex pellet shooters, the hammer and trigger mechanisms are fairly complex and benefit from regular lubrication if they’re to continue operating smoothly. Doing this effectively involves splitting the main casing halves, exposing lots of tiny springs, cams and levers, so it’s not for those of a nervous disposition.
Overall, the Umarex pellet shooters seem to be of notably higher quality than many other replicas. However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re also amongst the most expensive. Is an Umarex 1911 really worth two Cybergun Tanfoglio Witnesses? If you value high build quality, good finish, power, accuracy, reliability and durability, the answer is probably yes. I imagine that Umarex 1911s will still be making small groups of holes two inches above the centre of targets long after most TFWs are scrap.
Customising the Umarex 1911
Mirror polished Umarex 1911 with compensator, from Black Dog Pistols in the UK
Many custom parts are available for the Umarex 1911 and sound basic design and build quality make this a great platform for customisation. A plethora of items are available including (non-functioning) compensators, replacement hammers, one-piece triggers, replacement screw sets, adjustable sights, replacement thumb safeties, extended beavertails and different grips. The decent quality of metal used also makes this replica amenable to high quality polishing. Magic Nine Design (link at the end of this article) also produce my favourite visual mod – plain or engraved titanium ejector port covers. These really transform the look of this replica, and are especially effective on black versions.
Engraved titanium ejector port cover from Magic Nine Design (link at the end of this article)
Overall Impression 14/15
This is a well made, nicely finished replica which reflects many of the fine qualities of the original. It has good weight and feel and is a consistent pleasure to shoot. My Centenary Edition in particular was a thing of great beauty.
Niggles? Well, there are some. The action of the grip safety on the 1911 is a little disappointing – graunchy and crunchy. Both my Umarex 1911s shot around 1½” high at six yards, an irritation on a pistol that is otherwise so accurate. From reading the experiences of other owners, I believe that this is a common issue with these pistols. And like all the Umarex pellet shooting replicas, the 1911 does not replicate any aspect of the functionality of a real semi-auto pistol. I also think it’s disappointing that Umarex didn’t choose to produce an accurate visual replica of either the M1911 or M1911A1 rather than a hybrid with features of both.
But really, these are fairly small problems. Like most Umarex pellet shooters, this is beautifully made (and like the others, it’s still manufactured and finished at the Umarex plant in Germany). I’m aware of the discussions about whether current versions of the Umarex pistols are quite as good as the originals, but these are largely irrelevant when comparing these to other replicas – the Umarex pellet shooters are simply of much higher build quality and finish than almost all other replica pistols. For me, this is also the best of the Umarex pellet shooters – it has the power, accuracy and feel of the others coupled with the slim profile and ready pointability of the original Colt 1911. Overall, this is right up there with the very best replica pistols.
Regular readers (hello to you both) will be aware that I generally like visually and functionally accurate replicas and if you look just at the numbers, you might conclude that the Umarex 1911 is a less impressive pistol than for example, the Umarex Walther CP88. They both share similar build quality, power and accuracy, but the Walther is a closer visual replica. So, you’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I get all metaphysical in order to justify the fact that I much prefer the 1911.
If I could own just one Umarex pellet shooting replica, it would be a 1911. Partly this is because I like the original Colt design. The 1911 is one of the most influential, successful and well-regarded handguns ever made which also happens to feature elegantly simple design and that most elusive quality: “pointability”. The 1911, to me at least, just looks and feels somehow right in a way that many more recent designs don’t. Modern handguns are designed with the aid of sophisticated computer programs which take account of a huge range of ergonomic parameters. The 1911 was designed by an engineering genius who understood that what looks right will probably work. It has an emotive appeal that goes well beyond anything that can be easily quantified. Pick up an Umarex 1911 and I think you’ll agree that it somehow reflects these qualities. It’s a classic example of the whole somehow exceeding the sum of the parts. So, while I may have marked the Umarex 1911 lower than the Walther CP88 (chiefly on account of less impressive visual accuracy) I’d have to say I actually feel that the 1911 is the nicer pistol. So much for objectivity!
If you have any interest in replica air pistols, you need to beg, borrow or steal a chance to try an Umarex 1911. If you do, I suspect it won’t be long before one finds its way into your collection.
Total score: 83 /100
Colt 1911 Spot-the-difference answers
In addition to a wider foresight, the Colt M1911A1 features:
- Shorter and differently shaped hammer.
- Longer grip safety spur.
- Curved mainspring housing.
- Simplified grip checkering (no double-diamonds)
- Frame cuts-outs.
- Shorter trigger.
Did you spot them all?
Colt Government 1911A1 on the Umarex website